Did I Have Coronavirus in January?

I seriously have this question: is it possible that I have already had COVID-19? I would love a speculative reply from a medical professional.

I spent four weeks in Los Angeles this past January. When I arrived via a flight from JFK to LAX, I began feeling ill soon after arrival. You may recall that there were wildfires northwest of Los Angeles at the time, and I could smell the acrid burning. I suffer from mild asthma; most Angelenos barely seemed to notice it but it bothered me a lot.

What followed were the symptoms that I associated at the time with something that happens to me fairly typically: allergic reaction causes runny nose which triggers bronchitis which, if it gets bad, can become pneumonia. I have had pneumonia at least four times. Now, however, I wonder if I actually had coronavirus in January. Because what happened then was nothing like my normal pattern.

My symptoms were what we all know now as boilerplate for COVID-19. I had an incessant dry cough. (To the people I met with, sorry, I just didn’t know.) I had a constant fever. My temperature ranged from about 101° during the day to closer to 103° at night. My chest was tight: it felt like a car was parked on it. I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I was exhausted. Even walking half a block, I had to take a break. I would get back to my hotel after a meeting and be asleep by 6 PM. I would sleep 14 hours and wake up still wiped out. “What the hell,” I would ask myself, “is going on?”

This went on for nearly 4 weeks.

I visited two walk-in clinics in West Hollywood. The first one was useless. The attending nurse told me it was probably a viral as opposed to a bacterial infection and I just needed to treat it with over-the-counter stuff. I became alarmed when, a few days later, I felt like I was getting worse, not better. So I went to see another one.

These guys were better. They listened to me when I explained that my pulmonary problems usually have a bacterial component even when they are viral so that I needed antibiotics. They took an x-ray which revealed that I was in the early stages of pneumonia. I tested negative for flu.

However, they didn’t really give me a very strong antibiotic. I felt slightly better after two or three days but then I started to slip again. So I called my physician back in New York. So she called in a prescription for a stronger antibiotic. By then we were in week three. Normally when you have a fever, it gets worse at night but it starts to alleviate after the second night, maybe even after the first one. Whatever I had in January just kept going on like the energizer bunny. Night after night, that fever would hit me like a brick. And I could barely walk.

Looking back, it’s obvious that whatever happened to me in January, whether or not it was coronavirus, was definitely very different than anything else I have ever experienced. And I have had swine flu as well as regular influenza. This was nothing like that.

The timing certainly would work for coronavirus.

The Wuhan outbreak began in early December 2019. Los Angeles California is of course one of the major gateways to China so it’s likely that someone who carried the virus traveled from China to the United States within days. They were probably asymptomatic at the time.

New York to LA flights go back-and-forth between LA and New York and New York and LA so the plane was probably infected by time I boarded in New York. (I don’t care what the airlines say about how flying is safe. I often get sick due to the recirculated air on airplanes. I think planes are cesspools of contagion.)

At least three people with whom I came into contact suffered similar symptoms for at least a month. Again, sorry!

After I recovered from the initial symptoms, it took at least another month before I started to feel normal, as opposed to constantly exhausted and fatigued.

For the record, most experts believe that you will no longer transmit it after 14 days. The longest estimate I have found is 37 days. It has been longer than 37 days for me.

I am assuming that I am still vulnerable to coronavirus and I am taking all the necessary precautions to isolate myself and keep myself clean. And of course I don’t want to give it to anyone else. Still, it’s an interesting question: is it possible that I am one of many people in the United States who have already had coronavirus without knowing it?

If so, that gives us some reason for optimism in terms of recovery and fatality rates. If there are a lot of people like me who were never tested for this disease and got over it on their own, it means that the odds of recovering from coronavirus are significantly higher than those being calculated by public health officials.


  • alex_the_tired
    March 17, 2020 7:34 AM

    Two things:
    1. Your doctor returns your phone calls? Hell. Don’t let the LA Times see that, they’ll try to hold it up as proof that you’re a liar.
    2. The death rates of a disease can vary by age group. The 1918 Flu was more lethal to younger people than older people because (IIRC) the immune response started a feedback loop that led to the disease becoming more severe. Their own immune systems’ overreaction is what killed them. Older people succumbed too, but at lower rates due to lesser immune responses.

  • I’m unwilling to specualte as to whether you did, in fact, contract Covid-19 back in January, Ted ; the symptoms your report are hardly specific enough to allow such a determination, (One of the reasons that it took time for doctors and administrators in Wuhan to realise what was going on was that cases began to surface in the middle of the influenza season, – a case of pneumonia in an elderly person in a city of 11 millions like Wuhan is hardly a unique event….) If, however, you are interested in learning more, perhaps you could be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in your blood – I haven’t, however, seen any information on how long such antibodies remain detectable after recovery. Of course, there is the question of, given the limited resources available in the United States for such testing – despite the two-month respite that Chinese efforts to contain the virus gave the rest of the world – they should be used in your case. But in the event such an investigation is performed, I hope you will report here on the results.. Unfortunately, conventional X-rays are not diagnostic for COVID-19, but if you had a CT scan taken it could be examined for more specific signs like so-called «ground-glass opacities» and «cracy paving appearance», etc….

    Good luck !


    • Here I try to help you out, Ted – and I get my comment above (which, by the way, doesn’t contain any links) «moderated» in return ! What’s a man to do ?…


  • yep, your illness could have been COVID-19, but of course we wont know. In South Korea, after the SARS outbreak they actually developed a plan for future new outbreaks. This is a big reason why they have been able to get their act together and are able to test thousands of people. Check out Pro Publica reporting.
    I am not a doctor, but I read medical records and code the diagnoses and procedures for a hospital, so I don’t want to diagnose you. But viral pneumonia can be nasty, then a bacterial secondary pneumonia can start so at least you could have had a known virus attack you, or else the novel coronavirus.

  • Ted,

    If you need to know if you had COVID-19 (the disease, as opposed to the virus), your only definitive recourse now would be to take a test of your blood serum for the presence of antibodies made in response to a coronavirus infection. Such antibodies may or may not remain at detectable levels at this long a time after your symptoms have subsided.

    See, for example, tinyurl (dot) com/tz26na6

    I tend to think, however, that such tests are unavailable to recovered, possible victims and/or are affordable to only the likes of Trump, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein and Michael Bloomberg.

    Tests for the presence of virus genetic material also, finally, exist in the US but presumably would not be available to a recovered victim who most likely has no more virus in his system.

    I’m not a medical professional but have done relevant research work.

  • i too strongly feel i may have had covid 19 back in january after i travelled to miami. my husband and i both got it but of course i thought it was the flu. but what was weird is it was so different and didn’t follow the pattern of my usual flu. the fever lasted a week, the cough for at least 3 weeks and i was so tired and weak i could barely get up. it completely wiped me out and the nagging cough felt like it would never end. i easily transmitted it to my husband but no one else that i know of. we will never know really but i do question it. it could easily have been a super crazy flu strain that was going around but i wanted to share that i experienced the same thing as you in the second week of january 2020.

    • I also feel that I probably had this virus in February. Started with just a cough, but I had so much pain in my lower back that I needed to keep a heating pad on it! Strange for me… About 3 days in with the back pain, as I lay alone at home, the back pain seemed to creep up to my chest and I felt as though I had been hit by a car in my chest! Pain so bad in my chest that I contemplated calling an ambulance. Boyfriend came home and tried to tell me it was just stress. I thought not. Spent the rest of the day resting and not moving much, but taking deep breaths, as I’ve learned to deal with stress… a day and a half later chest pains were gone, only back pain and cough remained, cough for 2 more weeks. Better now!

  • I had it, too. Second week of January after traveling to Miami. I thought it was the flu but the longer it went on, I knew it was something different. Towards the end, I contemplated going to the hospital because I was having trouble breathing. My 6-year-old caught it too with milder symptoms. My husband didn’t get it at all. I’m a 39-year-old female living in the SF Bay Area with no underlying medical conditions.

  • Just want to remark that I have the same question.
    I had a very similar experience (though my fever was brief- only two days) with a persistent and totally singular cough that lasted two weeks from January 13th to January 28th. My girlfriend followed shortly thereafter, hers lasting til the 8th of February…
    I am never one for catching the flu, it’s been years. And the last cold I had lasted about five days in January of 2017.
    Any info you gather would be of real interest, please post updates here.

  • My husband and I vacationed in Miami the second week of January, we became ill as well. First my husband, no fever that we knew of, dry cough, runny nose, congestion, and exhaustion. I became ill as soon as we returned home. Bed ridden, exhausted, chills, could not get warm, a headache that was excruciating, dry cough, chest pressure, fever lasted a week. I went to the clinic, and flu test was negative, yet still treated with tamaflu. I didn’t completely recover for a month.

  • I seriously think I may have had it back in the first week of February. I live in Toronto, I attend school and work for the most part. I don’t usually get sick often, and when I do it usually lasts around 1-2days max. The symptoms that I got from this flu seem to resemble the mild case of coronavirus. Abnormal sweating and shivering, moderate fever, Body pains and headaches, Lack of energy dry Coughing for the duration of a week. When it came to recovery, it felt like I had water in my lungs, felt kind of uncomfortable that last about a few more days. I don’t think it was nearly contagious, but I did catch it for days after my brother had it.

  • I’ve been thinking the same thing. I took a flight to Phoenix the first week of January. Someone was sick o the plane. Within 2 days I had a fever and sore throat. Within a week I still had a fever and bad cough plus horrible chest pain. I was short of breath and my bones and back hurt like hell. Doctors tested me for strep and tooK xRays for pneumoniA. They had no idea what was going on. Symptoms lasted 6 weeks. I had ever been so ill. I am 57. I hope I am never that Sick again! I hope this goes away quickly and everyone can get back to their lives. I live in upstate NY.

  • I may have had the same end of December and first week of January. Maybe possible I did not fly though and I did not travel. I just had something made my chest feel as if I was short of breath and yet no running nose or anything. I am not certain of any fever but I would come home and sleep after work. I got better then I felt bad again 2 weeks ago but still no fever. Took plenty vitamins and slept plenty finally feeling somewhat better. Louisiana.

  • patriciahboston
    March 30, 2020 9:11 AM

    Hi Ted,
    Well, I had it also and it was miserable. I had heard about the three week virus, never thought I would get it!
    I took benzoate pearls to control the cough, fever, exhaustion that just went on and on. And I gave it to at
    least two people at work, which is very unusual. I couldn’t figure out what it was and altho I do have asthma,
    it is well controlled and I felt short of breath all the time, even after I used my rescue inhaler. I would like to think it was COVID 19 but am not taking any chances.

  • I can completely agree with this. My doctors are now saying I may have had it back in early/mid January. I had been traveling between Boston and Atlanta in the last week of December and had to be admitted to the ICU for a week with pneumonia. I have severe asthma and get pneumonia every six months. I have never had to be hospitalized for it. And then I developed sepsis from the infection. I had fevers between 103 and 105 and could barely breathe. However, I did also test positive for mono at the time as well, which is why nobody suspected anything more about the fevers or any of my other symptoms.